By Roli S
Visiting California is a dream come true for any nature lover. Forests, beaches, lakes, waterfalls, rocks, mountains, canyons – one can look forward to see and enjoy it all. Having visited Yosemite, Big Sur and Lake Tahoe on my previous visits, I was thrilled to know that we would be going to experience The Redwood National Park this time. Whenever I think about the Redwood and giant Sequoia trees, I am reminded of the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral.” With the same reverence and respect in my heart, I wanted to experience the ancient wonders of Planet Earth this time.
I feel most alive when I am in the mountains and amidst the tall trees that cover these mountains. I find myself transported to another world every time. I have a great regard for trees because they represent age and beauty and the miracles of life and growth. When one walks into a grove of trees, the magic of nature takes over and the burden of life lifts a little.
We started our journey towards the Redwood National Park from Mountain View at around 8 a.m. and we headed north towards the city of Eureka. It would take seven to eight hours of driving to reach there. We expected to pass by the avenue of Redwood trees before 5 p.m. Due to the autumn season and approaching winter, there was mist and fast fading daylight, so we could not see the Redwood magic on the day. At the hotel, my thoughts kept going back to the Redwood trees that were lined on both sides of the road. I don’t know why people say that there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. I think there is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree or the trembling of a leaf. I belong to the land of Bharat and in our culture trees have been regarded with special reverence. The ancient Indian civilisation was primarily dependent on and intimately associated with forests and flora. As a ‘tree of life’, Asvattha produced Soma, a drink that granted immortality. Fruits and seeds of every kind came from Asvattha. Providers of shade and bearers of fruit, trees have long been associated with life and fertility in the ancient Indian texts from the Indus Valley, Vedic Periods to Puranik Literature. Prayers have been being offered to ‘Vanaspati’ over thousands of years!
I closed my eyes, thinking that fate had brought me to this part of the planet where these majestic Redwood trees have made their home, and I would definitely make the most of it.
When one drives through the highways in the region around Eureka, there are Redwood trees growing everywhere. The trees are seen lined on both sides of the road and when we were finally driving towards the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ the mesmerising view of the trees made one want to stop and relish and admire these wonders of nature. I was humbled by the knowledge that, at the molecular heart of life, the trees and we humans are essentially identical! I felt very tiny standing next to these gigantic gifts of nature! Walking amongst these giants was going to be a humbling, almost other worldly experience. Redwoods have a quiet beauty that has lasted through the millennia and being in the presence of one can often be hard to put in words. I felt the same. But whenever I am in the company of trees that are old and ancient, I feel that they are so precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism other than these precious trees.
As I started walking on a trail through the Redwood Forest, I felt a serene and settled majesty to this woodland scenery that entered into my soul and delighted and elevated me. It filled me with noble inclinations. I understood what our Vedic seers and rishis must have know – that we are connected with everything in the universe. I took out my camera to capture these moments of joy, but immediately realised that it was futile and impossible to successfully photograph a redwood tree because the feeling they produce is not transferable. From these trees came silence and awe. It is not only their incredible and astonishing stature, it is not the colour which keeps changing before our eyes, it is just the fact that these Redwood trees are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They tell us something about human existence – the uncertain, ephemeral quality, as well as the brevity of human life, and the necessity to love.
As I walked through these forests I heard a deeper sound. Suddenly, all my ancestors, my sages, my rishis from Vedic times were behind me, telling me to be still, to watch and to listen, as if telling me that I was the result of the love of thousands.
I have walked through forests and followed forests trails in the Himalayas and other places, and I believe that all forests have their own personality. They each have their own conversation, their own sound, their rustling whispers, and smells. As one enters a forest, a voice speaks – unique to that forest and can’t be mistaken for the one you’d hear any place else, a voice true to those particular trees, individual rather than of their species. I wanted to touch and feel each one of those trees and hear them talk just to me.
I could almost hear the heart of those redwoods beating. That was a world of elemental attention, of all things working together. Watch and listen. Watch and listen. The voices of sages were following me everywhere I went in those forests.
My companions, other tourists, the notice, and information boards erected thoughtfully throughout the Redwood Forest walking trail, everything lost its significance when I was amidst these gentle giants of trees! I bowed my head in respect and offered my prayers like our Vedic seers might have done!
May the plants and herbs be sweet (i.e. efficacious for all), may the Heavens, the waters, and the mid-regions be all sweet (i.e. healthful and invigorating) for us. May the producer of grains and vegetables be sweet (i.e. friendly and helpful) for us. Let us follow him (act according to his wishes) being free from disease, and trouble of any sort.
Looking around me, standing amidst these Redwood trees I established that nature has a law that’s evolved over billions of years and the law is this: nothing in nature takes more than it needs. A redwood tree doesn’t take all of the soil’s nutrients, it takes only what it needs to grow. As I walked out towards our vehicle for my journey back, I hoped that sooner we learn the law of nature, better it would be for the human race.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)